I am cricket obsessed and I have a son with a natural aptitude for bowling. Were no.1 son to take three wickets in three balls, it would be one of the most perfect conflations of personal and family pleasures. I can imagine the hat-trick. Ball 1: batsman drawn to play at an outswinger which is edged and caught by the keeper. Ball 2: new batsman deceived by a slower ball which is chipped up and caught by a fielder. Ball 3: next batsman yorked by a ball that bounces at his toes and clatters middle stump.
Recently, in the pre-season practice sessions, no.1 son was my hat-trick hero. Here’s the story of those three balls.
Ball 1: younger brother (no.2 son) had been to two cricket practice sessions, then suddenly decided he didn’t want to go again and missed the next week. Conscious that my enthusiasm for the game may make the discussion difficult, I didn’t press no.2 son on his reasons for stopping. Instead, on the morning of the next practice I asked no.1 son if he could find out what was behind his brother’s change of heart. The boys talked. No.1 son enquired, listened and helped. He found out the reasons, made suggestions, gave reassurance and guided no.2 son back into the fold.
Ball 2: no.1 son’s age-group practice in the second of the two hour session. For several weeks, he stayed at home, with playstation or weekend TV sport before getting a lift to arrive for the second hour. This week, though, he came for the full two hours. He might have bowled to the boys practising in the nets, picking up some cheap wickets. But he didn’t. Instead, he offered himself as a helping hand to the coaches of the very young boys, who put him to work assisting with games and demonstrations and technical tips.
Ball 3: when the second hour came, no.1 son volunteered to move from the under 12s to the under 14s to balance up the numbers. He wanted to test himself against the boys two years older and, given his slight build, much bigger than he. He batted bravely against the fastest bowling he’s faced and persevered with the ball, bowling a 14 year old in the closing minutes of the practice.
It was a notable hat-trick, if not as dramatic as the three wickets in three balls of a conventional cricket hat-trick.
No.1 son is no angel and by bedtime that night, whether it was the prospect of school the next day, tiredness, or just the sheer difficulty of being eleven, he had a falling out with brother, sister, mother or me. But to have at his control the ability to help someone close to him work through a problem, the generosity to give up his leisure time to assist some younger children, and to be bold enough to challenge himself to play at a higher level, will turn out to be an even better combination than the away-swinger, slower ball and yorker that I had in mind.